"How do I know when I am caretaking and when I am being loving?"
I get asked this question quite frequently. The answer lies in understanding your intent.
Caretaking comes from the ego wounded self and the intent behind caretaking is to control. When you are caretaking, you are giving yourself up to do what someone else wants you to do in the hopes of having control over getting approval or avoiding disapproval or anger. When you are caretaking, you are taking responsibility for another person's feelings while ignoring your own. Frequently, you are doing for others what they need to be doing for themselves — which means that you are enabling them.
While it might look loving to caretake others, it is anything but loving. It is not loving to abandon yourself. It is not loving to give to get — giving with an agenda to get approval or avoid disapproval. It is not loving to enable others in not taking responsibility for themselves.
Loving behavior toward others comes from our loving adult self — which is who we are when we are connected with a spiritual source of love and wisdom. When you are loving others, you are giving to them for the joy of giving to them. The intent behind the giving is to share your love. You don't need anything from the other person because you are already full of love from having taken loving care of yourself.
There is no agenda attached to loving behavior. How the other person responds is fine, because you don't need anything back, nor do you expect anything back. You are giving for the pure joy of giving and are further filled in the act of giving.
Care-giving is a particular form of loving behavior. You are care-giving when you are giving to another what that person needs and cannot do for himself or herself. When you are care-giving, sometimes you do things even though you don't feel like doing them, because you love or care about the other person's well-being. An example of care-giving is taking care of children, even when you have to get up in the middle of the night and don't want to. You are care-giving when you take care of an old person or a sick person — doing for them what they cannot do for themselves.
Sometimes care-giving gives you joy, and other times it is difficult, but it never has an agenda attached. You are being kind because it makes you feel good to be kind — not because you are trying to get something back from the other person.
Often clients will say to me, "Isn't there a fine line between caring and caretaking?"